So the visiting Swedes decided it was time to take the Bob Dylan pilgrimage out of the city. Not as far as Hibbing, but to one of those American university campuses where he was awarded an honorary degree, or the key to a city…whatever. Where F. Scott Somebody and some other tourist-worthy iconic-types had left graffiti. I’m beginning to wonder whether this isn’t the version of American history they get in Scandinavia. Why not? My son’s 27 year-old English teacher actually taught a Springsteen song in a poetry class.
Don’t get me started.
Anyway, they rented a Volvo (I’m not making this up) and talked me into coming along. I haven’t breathed non-Manhattan air for about a year, and it’s the first real springlike day (I’m beginning to dislike the season, wondering how many baby-boomers (another detestable term) respond to a free-associative psychiatric diagnostic of “spring” with ‘steen’.
What I didn’t divulge to my happy blonde companions was that our destination was actually my alma mater. Yeah, not many rock musicians admit to actually having a college degree which if anything poses a major obstacle to survival in the music industry. So I’ve invested a fair number of years, despite my education, becoming a regular person. Like Bruce used to be. Yeah. Way back when he spoke with a New Jersey accent, not the pretentious southern drawl of today. And as far as I know, he didn’t have a college diploma—way back when he was singing about cars and sex and dirt and gas stations. Now he’s mingling with other pretentious rockstars who started out as English teachers. Another column.
Over the years I’ve managed to ignore reunion reminders, newsletters, invites for events, alumni get-togethers. And it’s not like I didn’t enjoy my time there. I loved it. Absolutely. I gave up music for the most part, and stuck my head in books. I watched films, synthesized hallucinogens in Chem Labs, read Philosophy, looked at art, sat late-nights in coffee houses with other poets and musicians, took drugs and worked out my brain. No one bugged me—no parents, no boss, no warring band members…just endless slow days of ruminating and listening, wrapping my mind around things I had scarcely tasted. And I was hungry.
Actually stepping on this old familiar soil was something I was unprepared for. Of course there is a ton of new architecture, development…it seemed every old building had grown wings, ells. But from the get-go, the flashbacks: here was where I threw up with Jane and Peter after my first margarita night. There’s where Paul W. gave me his ID bracelet, where I smoked a joint with Steve G. talking about the brilliance of Rodin, and then posed nude for his first 12-foot canvas. There’s where my cute dog bled to death after being stabbed by a town thug because some student pulled a coke-scam on him. And there’s where I smoked opium, freshman week, with a graduate student who was one of the smartest and most beautiful people I’d ever met. The dorm room where I did it for the first time because, Jesus, I hate to admit it, but I arrived at college a technical virgin.
I could almost smell the beery St. Patrick’s Day party in the firehouse…endless bashes in the basement of an abandoned frat-house on the corner… the Physics lab…the passion of a crush on a long-haired scientist which ended in Newtonian sex in his classroom. And here’s where I scared the shit out of myself on my 30th consecutive LSD trip and swore off drugs forever. Well, at least for a week. But most of all, everywhere I walk, I can almost taste smoking Winstons with that blonde boy who worked in the U-store, who wrote me a Neil-Young-worthy song about a bird. I slept with him in his car, in the chapel pews, in the laundry room, in a condemned Gothic building tower freezing our asses off, all one winter…on the beach at Asbury Park when Springsteen was still a person. Everywhere but in our rooms because I had a boyfriend and he had a girlfriend.
At graduation the blonde boy and I went stark naked under our robes. We had our final moments in the faculty gardens just before the ceremony. I was dripping sex when I went up to get my diploma.
The Swedes are following their little maps, dragging me around. I am trying to be an attentive tourist but I am having trouble speaking.
The Apollo-esque Grad student who turned me on to opium died around 1981 of what they then still called Gay Cancer. Somewhere I have some black and white photos of us
sitting back to back in a stonework arch. Or maybe those were stolen when the junkie robbed me on Sullivan Street. Can’t remember.
The blonde boy died of a wasting stomach cancer around 10 years ago. His sister called me when he was in a virtual coma. She said he’d spoken my name. She knew. What she didn’t know was the night before his wedding he drove 300 miles to New York to convince me to elope. We sat for hours in an East Village diner drinking hot chocolate, planning our future. As the sun came up he got back in the car and made it just in time for the wedding. I married my wild rockstar who was the domestic equivalent of a coyote.
While the Swedes covered every inch of the campus I sat on the steps of a dorm I’d lived in my last year--- a wild co-ed scene. My next-door neighbor had been a fast-talking southern charmer. I could remember the names of all the models and skinny little townie strays he picked up and brought inside. I turned my nose up at his fancy cars, his Caribbean forays, his playboy manner. In the end he taught me about exotic coffee, about wine, about jazz. We must have talked all night about 200 times. Every time I hear Coltrane I thank him silently. He died of cancer 3 months ago and I was too broke to fly south for his funeral. I salute him now—him and the blonde boy and all the others I shared a joint with, a glass, a bed…my heart.
We finally make it back to the city, after a few stops at roadside pubs. I am quiet. The Manhattan late-night congestion comforts me. My memories blend in with the trillion-billion bright light lives that passed through here. I am feeling a Titanic-sized weight on my chest, like I just stirred up and drank all the losses of my lifetime. I guess this is what it feels like to be an old person. The memories. Those of us that survive long enough to have them. The Swedes want to stop at Lakeside. More memories.
I swear to the Lutheran God if Springsteen is on the Jukebox I’ll smash something. Swedes like it when I talk this way.